Posted 1:56 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17, 2020

Taylor Hackel, who recently graduated from UWL with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, has been selected for a prestigious fellowship through the National Institute of Health. Hackel has long aspired to work in health care and give back to the community in the process. Read more →

For UWL grad, working in health care is about giving back

There was never much doubt Taylor Hackel would work in medicine.

As a preschooler, her most prized possession was a toy doctor bag equipped with a stethoscope and blood pressure meter. She used to give her family make-believe checkups.

Two decades later, her desire to work in health care is stronger than ever — and much closer to becoming a reality.

Hackel graduated from UW-La Crosse this spring with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and will soon begin a prestigious fellowship through the National Institute of Health. She’ll be working alongside Susan Buchanan of the University of Illinois at Chicago, studying proteins instrumental to the function of mitochondria, the “powerhouse” of the cell.

“I applied for this position because it is an amazing opportunity to conduct biomedical research with leading investigators,” Hackel says. “I believe I will grow exponentially in both scientific proficiency, as well as my knowledge and passion for addressing public health issues.”

The Wausau native has a long list of academic honors.

Hackel came to campus with an Eagle Apprentice Research Award and was later named a Dean’s Distinguished Fellow.

This year, she received one of two Murphy Awards for Academic Excellence, which recognize the university’s top graduating scholars.

Even after a jam-packed undergraduate career, Hackel is not pausing to take a breather or reflect on her achievements.

After working as a certified nursing assistant in the past, she plans to continue caring for patients as a primary care worker this summer — during a pandemic, no less.

“I love the intensity of a busy hospital environment, hearing patients’ stories, and being able to improve patients’ quality of life,” she explains.

That love of human-to-human connections also motivated her to volunteer.

On top of her studies, Hackel volunteered with the UWL Food Recovery Network, which collects excess food from the Whitney Center and donates it to the Hunger Task Force.

She also has served as a prayer partner for the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, taking prayer shifts in the Adoration Chapel in La Crosse.

But that’s not all.

Hackel served meals at the Salvation Army, lent a hand at the Catholic Charities Warming Center, and became pen pals with people who were incarcerated.

“My highlights from these experiences are when people that you serve begin to trust you enough to tell you their story,” she says. “I have listened to accounts of domestic violence, prostitution and struggles with addiction. This experience is never comfortable, but to be a true advocate, you need to be able to support others and love them where they are.”

Hackel plans to attend medical school and earn a joint medical doctor and master of public health degree.

She hasn’t decided what her final emphasis will be — she’s considering family medicine, prison psychiatry, and obstetrics and gynecology. But she promises to bring the same compassion and the same desire to help people that has motivated her in so many other causes.

“As a future physician I want to bridge the connection between health care and policy through public health advocacy,” she says. “I think that our healthcare system often acts as a band aid, prescribing pills for symptoms, while failing to address root causes.”